Mariners Spring Training Preview: The Bullpen

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May 21, 2013; Anaheim, CA, USA; Seattle Mariners reliever Lucas Luetege (44) delivers a pitch against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium. The Angels defeated the Mariners 12-0. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Final Lefty:

This battle comes down to Bobby LaFromboise and Lucas Luetge unless the Mariners are looking for someone else via free agency or trade. Also– because of the volatility of so many of the minor-league deals made by the M’s this offseason, I am largely ignoring pitchers like Scott Baker right now, simply because the Mariners are already uncertain enough that throwing them into the mix would give me a headache. Or worse, a migraine.

But let’s look at LaFromboise and Luetge side by side:

LaFromboise: GP: 10; IP 10.2; 7 ER; 4 BB; 11 SO; 12 H; 0 HR; 1.50 WHIP; 5.91 ERA

Luetge: GP: 25; IP 37.0; 20 ER; 16 BB; 27 SO; 42 H; 2 HR; 1.57 WHIP; 4.86 ERA.

Ok so neither of those guys look particularly good. However, LaFromboise’s sample size is too small to make an educated and informed decision. And Luetge was lights-out in 2012, and for whatever reason his command went out the window this last season.

Something to note for these two: BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) is normally between .290 and .310 for the average hitter. In 2012, Luetge’s BABIP-against was at .306 so right in the middle of that average range. However in his 37.0 innings in 2013, that BABIP-against was .345. And even in LaFromboise’s limited sample, his BABIP-against was an absurd .387.

Either Luetge got significantly worse and LaFromboise isn’t a very good pitcher, or those numbers should go down in 2014.

Between these two I think Luetge has the edge for one reason: experience. He has shown dominance against lefties before, and if he can get his confidence back there is no reason he cannot do that again. LaFromboise will end up in Triple-A, polishing his control and prepared for a midseason call-up when injuries and disaster inevitably hit.

Aug 29, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Erasmo Ramirez (50) pitches during the sixth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Long Reliever:

As of today the long reliever spot in the bullpen is as mysterious as a Stephen King novel. Dan touched on the Mariners continued search for starting pitching last night. It really does seem like the Super Bowl victory by the Seahawks is rocking the Mariners boat and giving a little extra nudge to try to win before the end of the decade.

There are a lot of layers to this last bullpen spot. 1) If the M’s do sign or trade for another starter, that bumps down all the other starting pitchers on the list. 2) If the M’s do not sign or trade for another starter, there is still a battle for the 6-9 spots in the rotation– or the rotation spots in Triple-A Tacoma and the long relief bullpen spot.

I’m going to go out and say it: I expect the Mariners to give Ervin Santana a 4 year/$52 million offer. In turn, I expect him to become a Mariner– he follows me on Twitter so I know things.

If he does become True to the Blue, he would be the #3 starter. Then, if all goes as planned, it looks like Taijuan Walker and James Paxton would be the #4 and the #5.

So who is the long reliever/#6?

My money is on Erasmo Ramirez. Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Pocket Rocket actually nabbed the #5 spot and the Mariners gave either Walker or Paxton a little more time in Tacoma to work on their control.

The potential of Walker and Paxton is too much, though. If they make strides early in the season in Seattle, the rotation could really be a force in the AL West. And Ramirez is the perfect guy to be the #6. He has proven himself to be above the likes of Beavan, Maurer (who is still too inexperienced), and Hector Noesi (oh God).

Granted, like most of the young pitchers on this roster, Ramirez needs to work on his control– he walked 26 batters to just 57 strikeouts in 72.1 innings last season.

But when all is said and done; Pocket Rocket Erasmo Ramirez will round out the 7th spot in the 2014 Mariners bullpen.

Wilhelmsen and Medina:

Sep 17, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Seattle Mariners relief pitcher Yoervis Medina (31) walks off the field after being relieved in the seventh inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Yoervis Medina had an up and down rookie season but showed enough promise to be in the 2014 bullpen conversation. He had a 2.91 ERA, 1 save (3 blown saves), 71 strikeouts over 68.0 innings but also 40 walks. Control will be the name of his Spring Training. But unless he really struggles in the spring, expect funky-cold-Medina out there on Opening Day.

His biggest competition will be with one-time Mariners closer Tom Wilhelmsen, who collapsed mid-way through last season. If he can find his confidence and command again, he should have no problem finding his way into the bullpen.

However, all of this poses a bit of a problem: I have Pryor penciled in with a bullpen spot, but it looks like it could be these three guys vying for two righty spots in the ‘Pen. Unless the Mariners decide to ditch the idea of a long reliever to start the year and stick Wilhelmsen, Medina, and Pryor all out in the ‘Pen.

This is really a tough situation to gauge, but I think Wilhelmsen’s experience will get him out there on Opening Day. And the promise Pryor showed his rookie season and to start last season is hard to pass up.

It really is a tossup, but I think the M’s will go with a long reliever, Wilhelmsen, and Pryor, and give Medina time in Tacoma to work on his command. He will then be MLB ready for when injuries come up.